Politicians and social commentators were up in arms this week over the Catholic sacrament of confession.
In a furious media frenzy, MPs from the whole spectrum inveighed the confidentiality of this Catholic sacrament. The sacrament, it was argued, is helping to protect child sex offenders. The prevailing sentiment can be summarized by quoting Nicola Roxon, the head of the royal commission into the handling of child abuse – she sees the seal of confession as “really abhorrent”.
It seems to me that in the heat of the moment our politicians have overlooked a few crucial issues. Considering these issues might help us to make a more informed judgement on the matter.
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When I saw Prime Minister Julia Gillard on television announcing there would be a Royal Commission into child abuse in churches and other institutions I was overwhelmed. I wept uncontrollably. I became breathless. I walked the floor struggling to breathe, trying to comprehend what I had heard.
It was later I realised it was about time the truth was revealed - perhaps it was time for hope and happiness, not sadness. My sister and I lived in the Church of England North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore for more than 22 years - from 1949 to 1964. I was there for 14 years, my sister eight.
Most of those years were full of hatred, bloody brutal flogging, bashing, starvation and sexual abuse. It was a home of hell and fury.
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I’ve only ever been to confession twice, both times when I was a young child. The first time I couldn’t think of anything to confess to so I made up some sins and was rewarded with penance of two Hail Marys.
In hindsight the Hail Marys were probably for lying to God. Our parish priest was a good man who would have known when an 8-year-old was talking it up.
But even then it felt very weird to me that children would be expected to enter a dark little box on their own and open up the conversation with: “Forgive me Father for I have sinned”.
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The English rule against pattern evidence (similar facts) has made it difficult to convict organised criminals and serial sex offenders for 118 years.
People in law enforcement have asked Australian governments to introduce a US exception to the rule for 29 years, without success. Charges laid against a former Catholic priest in NSW on October 18 prompted me to send the following to Premier Barry O’Farrell, Police Minister Mike Gallacher, and Justice Minister Greg Smith on October 23.
I received letters thanking me for my interest, but I will be pleasantly surprsied if the law is changed. This is what I wrote:
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There is a textbook study in how not to handle allegations of systematic child sexual abuse and it was written by the retired Anglican bishop Peter Hollingworth. The mistakes made by Hollingworth cost him his job as Governor-General. They are now being repeated, arguably to an even graver and more offensive degree, by Catholic Archbishop George Pell.
Hollingworth’s biggest misjudgement in the scandal surrounding his knowledge of and response to child abuse in his church was to go on Australian Story and declare that a young female victim of abuse had actually instigated the sexual contact herself.
George Pell had his own Hollingworth moment on Sunday when he declared that he wants the NSW Police to wade through the total number of child abuse cases on their books so that the public can get a sense of what proportion of such cases involve the Catholic Church.
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BREAKING NEWS: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just announced a national Royal Commission into child abuse - beyond just the Catholic Church to look at abuse in all religious organisations and in state care, as well as schools and not-for-profit organisations. She said any instance of child absue is a “vile and evil thing”, and that “there have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes”. She hopes the terms of reference will be finalised by the end of the year after consultation with victims’ groups and the states and territories.
Meanwhile, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney and the country’s most powerful Catholic, is acting like a child just when he most needs to man up. In the face of the latest horrific allegations of systemic child abuse and coverups within the Catholic Church he has cried, by turns: ‘it wasn’t me’, and ‘they did it too’.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, a senior investigative cop, has revealed new depths in the scandal that has haunted the church for decades. He said “the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church”.
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The report released yesterday by Justice Blaxell in Western Australia, shows that a countless number of board members in a WA hostel and a principal along with family members, ignored the allegations of sexual abuse made against Dennis John Mckenna – a warden at St. Andrews Hostel, Katanning.
They failed in their responsibility to prioritise and protect the young students. These failures began in the 1970s and have taken until now to come completely to light – how did these rumours and allegations go unnoticed?
This report shows the urgent need for accurate and proper reporting processes in our society to help put a stop to child abuse. ASCA is calling this to action – Australia needs all citizens to comply with the immediate reporting of any suspicion or knowledge of any child being abused to police or child protection authorities.
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Back in January, SA Police established a special internet child exploitation unit to tackle the rise in internet predators and the growing trade in sexual images involving children.
To date, the unit has made 21 apprehensions and is investigating another 68 cases. (This often means they’re ploughing through seized computer hard drives for images – one hard drive a few weeks back contained 1.2 million photos.)
On average, three South Australians have come under the unit’s spotlight each week, often for possessing what’s commonly known as “child pornography”. That’s pretty alarming in itself, but it’s not the worst statistic in this repulsive and spreading scourge.
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The best assessment Cardinal George Pell could offer this week on the Catholic Church’s handling of the decades of irreparable damage caused by paedophile priests was the Church had “an adequate story to tell.”
Even if that were true, “adequate” is, well, inadequate. The worst thing about the episode of 4 Corners that aired on Monday night was that it was just a handful of stories among many.
The young men whose lives were destroyed, their parents, siblings, friends and children permanently damaged, and the priests who appear to have been completely let off the hook, are not alone.
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It’s heartening to see Australian politicians taking a stand around Catholic clergy abuse, but the calls to action this week by Senator Nick Xenophon and Victorian MP Anne Barker don’t quite go far enough.
We now need a Federal Government led, transparent national inquiry and mandatory reporting of all crimes revealed within the Church environment.
The Cloyne report, an independent state report released in Ireland into Catholic clergy abuse last week is the fourth inquiry in six years. All of the reports have been damning, chronicling the repeated failure of the Church to protect children, bring the guilty to justice and make the welfare of victims paramount.
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Moves are afoot in Ireland to lift the sacred secrecy of confession - so priests will be jailed if they don’t report child sex abuses revealed to them. SA Senator Nick Xenophon has been pushing for similar changes in Australia, arguing that innocent children deserve more protection than religious practice. We asked him for some more details.
What changes would you like to see in the way confessions are handled?
The admission of child abuse to a priest during confession should not be exempted from mandatory reporting requirements. No church should be complicit in the cover up of child abuse just so some paedophile can attempt to clear his conscience. The rule of law should come before religious beliefs, and there should be no exceptions.
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We will never eradicate paedophilia or child sex abuse.
This admission is implicit in the naming of SA Police’s Operation Decimate, which is the Sexual Crime Investigation Branch’s child sex exploitation investigation.
I fervently hope they are using the term ‘decimate’ in its bastardised but generally accepted definition – to destroy a significant proportion.
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Abused kids deserve better than spin.
As the Federal Convenor of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, I applaud the Baillieu Coalition Government for making the welfare of all Victorian children a priority in 2011.
The announcement last week of an inquiry into the systemic problems in Victoria’s child protection system is overdue and welcome. Such an inquiry is much needed not only for all those who work in the child protection system but more importantly, for those who are living with abuse.
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”…it is highly likely that every Australian either was, is related to, works with or knows someone who experienced childhood in an institution or out of home care environment.’ – Forgotten Australians, p. xv”
At 8.30pm tonight SBS will screen a documentary called The Forgotten Australians, timed to air on the first anniversary of the national Apology last year by then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, to the people who have become known by this term.
Who are the Forgotten Australians – and why was the Prime Minister saying sorry?
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This week is National Child Protection Week 2010 and this year NAPCAN is highlighting the stark fact that when we know 33,000 children are abused each year, child protection is everyone’s business.
And they are just the ones we know about. These statistics have no place in 21st century Australia.
What would happen if, in a single year, 33,000 Australian children became ill in an epidemic, with some children dying and many children being damaged for life? There would be a national outcry to intervene and stop it. Why isn’t there a similar outcry for children who have been abused or neglected? The abuse and neglect of children continues year after year, yet it seems no one hears these children.
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Just to be absolutely clear, smashing convicted paedophile and child rapist Dennis Ferguson over the head with a medicine ball is not the ideal way to respond to his presence in a city gymnasium.
That said, Ferguson’s presence in a city gymnasium is not an ideal situation either.
Especially when he just sits there, dressed in a business suit, not even exercising at all, but outside at the pool where he can gaze at dozens of primary school kids who are learning to swim. Especially when he times his visits to coincide with the swimming lessons, either the primary school kids in the mornings, or the high school students when he visits in the afternoon.
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SHY Keenan (corr) doesn’t like to call herself a victim nor does she like the term survivor. Both imply a resolution to an issue.
But from the age of four she was systematically raped, beaten, degraded, filmed then, at the age of 10, sold to a gang of dockworkers in the UK for four more years of abuse.
In 2000 more than 25 years after the abuse, she armed herself with a small camera lent by the BBC and filmed one of her attackers boasting about his actions. Two years later she watched in satisfaction from the back of Liverpool Crown Court as three of her attackers, including a stepfather, were handed jail terms.
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In 1957 a little girl’s life was changed forever.
She was three years old when her family was torn apart, when she was separated from her brothers and sisters and sent to St Catherine’s Orphanage, in Geelong.
For the next thirteen years she lived in constant fear of being punished for every minor indiscretion and with the empty feeling of a childhood deprived of love. She wouldn’t see her brother again for forty years. Hers is one of half a million stories.
- This is the speech given by Labor MP and Punch contributor Richard Marles this afternoon on the Forgotten Australians. The Punch will run some of the MPs’ addresses this week.
Today we have heard just a few of the half a million stories of the Forgotten Australians, each as sad and as powerful as the last. Collectively they represent a well of pain and a great wrong which today our nation acknowledged.
Among those are the stories of the co-founders of Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) - Joanna Penglase and Leonie Sheedy. These two were the driving force behind the original Senate inquiry. They have been the driving force behind the National Apology.
Their shoulders have provided support for a multitude of Forgotten Australians. Their ears have heard a thousand stories and in the process provided relief. They are great Australians.
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There are many things that trouble me about convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson.
There is the debate about whether such offenders are ever capable of rehabilitation (I doubt it). There is the debate about whether we are doing enough to address the causal factors that hard wire this evil behaviour, transforming a person into a predator that destroys young people’s lives.
But one issue that seems to have escaped attention is how can a convicted paedophile from Queensland move to NSW and get himself a five year lease in public housing, while almost 40,000 more worthy tenants in NSW are waiting in the queue.
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I’m trying to think of an intro that won’t make me sound like a Dirty Harry-style vigilante. But I can’t so I’ll just admit it – if serial paedophile Dennis Ferguson moved into my suburb I’d be out on the street with the rest of the neighbours demanding he be kicked out immediately, and asking why he was ever let out of jail in the first place.
With one exception, which I’ll deal with further down, all the wise-headed counsel against mob hysteria is coming from people who haven’t just discovered that their new next-door neighbour kidnapped and raped three children.
Or that he’s been charged with other aberrant or disturbing conduct since then too. And is still quite obviously as mad as a meat axe, a genuinely scary-looking weirdo who would probably be safer and happier if he were still in custody, rather than popping up in an endless series of new locations across our continent, on every occasion confronted by parents who become frightened and angry when they realise who’s just moved in.
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If you took the kids to McDonald’s on the weekend then brace yourself: you may just have landed yourself in hot water with child welfare. While you might claim you were engaging in an entirely innocent and harmless activity that has been going on for decades, you were in fact abusing your kids.
That is if you take the word of UK Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell who recently labelled parents who feed their overweight kids junk food child abusers. Platell was particularly incensed by the failure of a healthy eating plan sponsored by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, due, in her opinion, to parents who insisted on feeding their kids junk food at home.
Platell’s branding such behaviour child abuse is part of a growing trend in which the definition of child abuse has been radically expanded to include pretty well any behaviour or point of view to which someone, somewhere objects. Platell isn’t the only one who subscribes to this view.
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As the 8000-plus readers of Mia Freedman’s Twitter feed will already know, the clothing company, “Cotton On” has launched a new range of baby suits and T-shirts, bearing the amusing
slogan: “They Shake Me.’’
Trouble is, all the babies in the ads for the “They Shake Me” range are bright and happy and smiling at the camera.
Surely, if Cotton On is going to make light of child abuse, they should use a real-life victim of child abuse to model the clothes?
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The shocking case last week of a two-year-old Victorian girl being savagely beaten has once again raised the issue of child abuse into the headlines.
It has started an important debate about when to remove children from their parents and what constitutes a child at risk.
Despite some horrifying high profile cases in recent years, child abuse is a problem that many Australians still think is limited to a certain section of the community.
While this view might make it easier for us to sleep at night, it does nothing to protect the more than 30,000 Australian children who were abused or neglected last year.
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